What is the difference between hearing and listening? They are basically the same thing, right? Actually, not even close! Hearing is simply perceiving sound by the ear. It requires no effort.
Listening requires an intentional decision to participate in what you hear. Listening involves really absorbing what is being said and processing it in the brain – not just consuming words and noise. We tend to listen to what we find important to us. But in order to succeed in life, we need to consider what is important to others!
We hear things all day long. Phones, cars, lawn mowers, conversation. We simply can’t stop to listen to everything (selective hearing!). But there are certainly times we need to concentrate on what is being said.
When you only hear words that are being said to you and you are not truly listening, it can lead to hurt feelings, missed opportunities and potential conflicts. Ask yourself, are you open to what another person is sharing?
Those who excel most in life, have mastered the art of listening. Not just listening passively or faking it. But active listening, disciplining your mind to engage with what is being said.
Try improving your listening skills with these tips:
Choose to be considerate of others. Maybe you aren’t interested in your co-worker’s weekend plans or your client’s cat. But making the conscious decision to listen shows that you care. And then, when you ask them about their pet the next time you are talking with them, they feel valued. And that will go a long way. Choose to have a genuine interest.
Don’t interrupt. Of course, you have something important to say! But be patient. And let the other person finish first. Make sure you are focusing on them and not on what you want to say next. Don’t rush. Rushing can lead to arguing and misunderstanding or cause someone to disengage with you entirely.
Relax. Let down the defenses that build when you start to hear something contrary to how you feel. Consciously decide to push those to the side so you can listen with an open mind.
Don’t jump to conclusions. Make sure you reserve judgment on the speaker. Don’t assume you will automatically disagree with them since they are very different than you. Put value in people. Also, try to keep emotion out of your listening. Take time to understand their intention (Hint: Don’t just assume you know how the story ends just because the beginning sounds familiar!)
Body language. Make eye contact. Stop what you are doing. Don’t cross your arms or keep looking at your phone. If possible, turn to the person speaking. Communication is just as much non-verbal as it is verbal. Intentional listeners communicate that they are concentrating on what is being said.
Ask good questions. Try to stay away from yes, no and generic questions. Find ways to engage and touch emotions. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that when she picks her kids up from school she doesn’t ask, “How was your day?” Instead, she says, “So, what was something funny that happened today?” Because her kids expect this question they are looking all day for funny things to share in the car which ends up engaging everyone in laughter and conversation.
When you master the skill of active listening you will have more clarity in your communications and more connection with those around you. This skill will help you engage on a deeper level with your clients, co-workers and family.
Listening is a life-long skill that will serve you in all relationships. It takes practice and patience, but it will pay off! People will perceive you as insightful, considerate and intelligent. And this will lead to greater success!